This isn’t going to make any sense at all, darlings, unless you are or have been reading the Bayou Bonhomme Serial — You can start at the beginning or pick up any chapters you may have missed out on by visiting HERE
Jessica’s just on fire (I didn’t do it, I swear. I merely sprayed her with some accelerant — well, she was nagging me about being thirsty and it was all I had on hand.) and is giving you another Bayou Story this week, because you deserve it, she says. After all, she knows what a horrible tease she’s been with this for weeks.
And now, what you’ve all been waiting for now that the box has been opened:
Mon cher fils,
Ici est la vérité: Il y a des monstres dans le bayou.
Oscar hadn’t read straight French in ages, but he could make out most of what Jean-Baptiste’s grandfather had written. It wasn’t the writing of a highly educated man — Oscar wouldn’t have expected it to be. A young black man in 1910 in a Louisiana that still saw lynchings on a regular basis wouldn’t have had much opportunity for schooling. But if Oscar remembered correctly, old Jean-Baptiste had once told him that his grandpappy grew up working for the Ammons — an old family in Bayou Bonhomme — nearly as old as the Bergerons. And the Ammons had always been more progressive folk. They must have taught him how to read and write, and as Oscar read what Henri had to say, he had to applaud their effort.
My dear son. Here is the truth: There are monsters in the bayou.
But don’t be afraid. I will tell you how to recognize them.
Right now, my son, you are asleep with your mama, and you don’t need to worry. Your daddy will protect you.
The papers, they say that a young girl, Josephina DuBois, she got bit by a gator going swimming in the bayou. But it weren’t no gator that bit her. Don’t you believe it. There are scarier things than gators in Bayou Bonhomme.
Everybody has heard the stories of Remy LeVert, the Green Man of Bayou Bonhomme — how he lives in the swamp and sneaks into houses at night and steals babies. I heard those spook stories from the time I was in britches, and I’m sure you’ll hear them too, little Mathieu. Nothing kids like more than to tell spooky stories, I think. But there ain’t no Remy LeVert, boy. Least, not as I’ve ever seen. You ain’t got to be afraid of no spook in the swamp. Not when there are real monsters in Bayou Bonhomme.
A couple of nights before little Josephina’s body was discovered, I woke up all dry and thirsty like, and got up to get a drink of water. There was something weird about the night — some strange humming noise coming in off the bayou, like a swarm of flies, buzzing in my ears. I stepped out my door to get some nice cool night air, and saw an orange glow down by the water. It sure looked like fire to me.
Your mama, she hated me to set foot out the house after dark, on account of all the talk of Klan and lynching, but me, I told her I refused to live in fear. Besides, your daddy’s so black, ain’t nobody can see me in the dark!
Oscar knew where this story was going. He’d heard it from Jean-Baptiste shortly before he died. He’d been going around telling the story to anyone who would listen. He even told it on one of his tours through the bayou. The story of how his father saw seven hooded figures walking out into the bayou with the body of a young girl — Josephina DuBois, as it turned out. Only from what Oscar read, it appears that Henri didn’t know about Chuck — that is, he didn’t have any experience with the creature itself.
He turned the page and read on, impressed with how accurately the story had been passed down, first to Jean-Baptiste’s father, and then to the old man himself.
“I tell you what, JB,” Oscar said, hoping the old man was out there somewhere, and that maybe he’d hear him. “Your gran-pere had balls of solid steel, mon ami.”
He read on.
After that girl’s body was discovered, your mama and me, we nearly left town for good. I was plenty scared, and I admit I got a little bit of rabbit in me. I figured the safest thing to do would be to take you and your mama as far away from Bayou Bonhomme as possible. Only your mama, she’s smarter than me, and maybe that’s the only reason I’m still alive and writing this for you. Your mama, she worked for Mr. and Mrs. Bergeron, up in that big old house of theirs, doing laundry and looking after their little George. It had been a terrible summer. Josephina DuBois was the third person in as many months to die an unnatural death, and people were scared stiff. Nobody went swimming in the bayou after dark, and where ordinarily you’d see kids chasing each other around the streets all hours of the day, that whole summer after that Blanchette boy went missing, parents didn’t hardly let their children out of their sights.
Oscar recoiled at the mention of his last name. He hadn’t ever heard of any of his ancestors dying an unfortunate death — but then again, this was a hundred years ago. A hundred years ago or not, Oscar recognized the atmosphere of panic and protectiveness. He’d lived such a summer once himself, and now he was deep in the middle of his second. Except that he had fled, where Henri Levesque had stayed. But then, he hadn’t known what Oscar knew.
Your mama came home one day and told me a tale that opened my eyes, and I knew that we couldn’t leave. She’d come upon Mrs. Bergeron — Claudia DuBois that was, before she married — in a terrible state. She’d been drinking, she was hardly dressed, and she wouldn’t get out of bed. Her husband had gone off to work, but she knew it wouldn’t do for him to find her in such a state.
‘Missus!’ she shouted out of concern. ‘Missus, what’s the matter?’
But no matter how your mama may have felt about Mrs. Bergeron, having worked in her house since she was a little girl, to Mrs. Bergeron, your mama was just another housemaid.
‘What are you doing in here? Get out!’
Your mama spun on her heels and did as she was told. It wasn’t looked kindly upon, but occasionally the white folks round here would still lay a beating on the help. When she closed the door behind her, though, she heard Mrs. Bergeron stumble and fall, as if she’d been trying to chase her out of the room and fell.
‘Genevieve!’ She called out for your mama.
‘Please,’ she said. ‘Please help me up.’
Your mama said she’d never heard her use the word so sincerely before. Sure, being a lady of proper upbringing, she had all her manners about her, but there’s a difference between remembering to say please and thank you, and actually pleading.
Your mama went in and helped Mrs. Bergeron up, and got her sitting up on the bed. She went to the water closet and fetched a bowl of water and a cloth, and began cleaning her up, wiping her face with a cool cloth. She seemed so far away, your mama told me. Like her body was there but here mind was somewhere else entirely. Your mama, being a sweet and tenderhearted woman, figured what it must be.
‘That little girl,’ she said carefully, ‘was she a relation of yours?’
Her Missus didn’t answer, so your mama thought it best left alone. Instead of pressing the matter, she started humming a song her mama — your granmere — used to sing to her when she was just a baby. It seemed to calm her Missus some, and your mama got her to lay down.
‘I’m going to get you your dressing gown, Missus Bergeron,’ she said, and went to get some clothes for the poor woman.
When she got back, her Missus was crying again, curled up like a little baby in her big old bed. Your mama sat with her awhile until she stopped, and then she cleaned her up and got her into her dressing gown. She didn’t know what else to do for the woman, so she got up to leave, only Mrs. Bergeron reached out and took her hand.
‘Thank you,’ she said, and I’m sure your mama smiled at her right sweetly.
‘Of course,’ your mama would have said, because that’s just how she is.
‘My little cousin,’ her Missus said. ‘My little Jo.’
Your mama told me she sat there and watched her stare at nothing at all, and she got the feeling that her Missus had lost a piece of her mind. That frightened her, and I can tell you, not much frightens your mama.
She started to tell Mrs. Bergeron that we were thinking of moving on. She made up some story about how I had a cousin in Shreveport that needed a partner on his fishing boat, but she never got to complete the lie, because Mrs. Bergeron snapped out of her haze, and grabbed your mama’s hand tight. Your mama said the look on that woman’s face scared her more than anything she’d ever seen before.
‘No!’ She said. ‘You can’t! You musn’t! They won’t allow it! They’ll know, Genevieve! Don’t you see! They’ll think I told you something to scare you away!’
‘Missus, please,’ your mama pleaded. ‘Missus, please, you’re hurting me. You’re scaring me!’
Mrs. Bergeron let go of your mama’s hand and relaxed again, collapsing with a horrible sigh back on her bed.
‘Besides, Genevieve, it’s all over with now. You’ve nothing to worry about anymore.’
Your mama didn’t know what to make of all that. She just sat there trembling as her Missus kept crying about her ‘Poor little Jo’ over and over again.
‘How do you know?’ Your mama asked, and the woman didn’t answer, not at first. Then your mama asked again, and the woman stopped muttering about poor little Jo, and looked at her blankly.
‘How do you know?” Your mama demanded this time, shaking the woman out of her blank stare.
The woman’s eyes welled up with tears and she began sobbing and making noises like she was going to be sick.
‘Because they promised me!’